You could say it was a musical marriage made, if not in heaven, certainly in a booking agency, judging by the crowd that packed Royce Hall Saturday to hear the Modern Jazz Quartet and the Kronos Quartet.
In view of John Lewis' Third Stream ventures, and the Kronos recordings of Ellington, Monk and Miles Davis, the joint presentation might have seemed logical. As it turned out, ironically, the Modern Jazz Quartet stuck to its most conservative jazz mode, and the Kronos, in its opening set, never dipped into jazz waters.
Two of these pieces were recently commissioned. John Zorn's "Cat-o'-Nine-Tails" supposedly took as its inspiration the surreal music found in animated cartoons. Fragmentary and aleatory, the work made frog-like jumps between decades, even centuries, in dozens of bits and pieces that seemingly could have been rearranged in any order.
"Doom--a Sigh," by the Hungarian composer Istvan Marta, employed taped female vocal sounds recorded by the composer in Romania for an eerie, moaning \o7 Sprechgesang \f7 effect that soon wore out its impact.
More accessible was a brief piece by a composer from Uganda, played in a sometimes folksy, fast 3/4 with Joan Jeanrenaud slapping her cello for a hint of percussion.
The Modern Jazz Quartet long ago found itself a comfortable niche that has tended more and more to become a rut. The long Gershwin medley found Milt Jackson offering most of what little vitality remains, while John Lewis at the piano busily turned the pages of music he has performed a thousand times and must surely be able to play in his sleep. Still, if the spontaneity has run dry, the essential beauty remains. The quartet came alive in two Ellington numbers: "Jack the Bear," featuring Percy Heath's bass, and "Rockin' in Rhythm."
The two groups finally came together, playing three Lewis originals. "The Golden Striker" made belated use of the Kronos, played modestly well on "Alexander's Fugue," but ended on a triumphant note with "A Day in Dubrovnik."
Surely one of Lewis' finest works, variously romantic and rhythmic, "Dubrovnik" united all the elements--Lewis, Jackson, David Harrington's lead violin, even Connie Kay's often stiff drumming--into a seamless whole.